Vale Canada Limited pleaded guilty Tuesday of three charges under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act tied to the deaths of two Stobie Mine employees in 2011.
The company was fined $350,000 for each of the three counts, which were related to a failure to take reasonable precautions to prevent water accumulation in the mine, which caused a deadly run of muck.
According to Crown attorney Wes Wilson, the total fine of $1.050 million is the largest ever awarded in Ontario for a health and safety prosecution.
“Nothing approaching this amount has been awarded in occupational health and safety prosecution ever before in this province,” Wilson said.
The largest fine under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act before today’s decision, he said, was $650,000.
Crown prosecutor Dave McCaskill added he has not found a single Canadian incident that has exceeded the Vale fine.
“This may set a national precedent,” he said.
On June 8, 2011, Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, were working on the 3,000-foot level of Vale’s Stobie Mine in Sudbury when they were overcome by a 350-ton run of muck consisting of rock and water.
In its guilty plea, Vale acknowledged it “failed to take reasonable precaution in preventing the movement of material through an ore pass where hazardous conditions existed.”
The company also pleaded guilty to counts of failing to take reasonable precaution of maintaining the drain holes at the 2400-level of the Stobie Mine and a failure to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring the water, slimes and other wet material was not dumped into the No. 7 ore pass at the 2600-level of Stobbie Mine.
The court determined the accumulation of water at the higher levels caused the run of muck at the 3,000-foot level, where Chenier and Fram were killed.
Crown counsel, which represented the Ministry of Labour, and Vale’s lawyers, arrived at a joint submission that the company be charged $350,000 per count. The maximum possible fine under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act is $500,000 per count.
Justice Randall Lalande upheld the joint submission and said it presented a reasonable deterrent for Vale and other mining companies.
Vale’s lawyer Doug Hamilton noted the company conducted an extensive investigation after the deadly incident in 2011. Following the investigation, Vale’s team made 31 recommendations to improve the health and safety standards at the mine. Hamilton said most of the recommendations have been implemented, or are near completion for implementation.
Justice Lalande said Vale’s guilty plea was also a mitigating factor with regards to the fines. The guilty plea and joint submission on the fine gave the case predictability, he said, and avoided a long and costly court battle.
Six additional charges against Vale were withdrawn as part of the negotiations between the Crown and Vale’s council.
Six charges against Keith Birnie, the Stobie Mine supervisor at the time of the deadly incident, were also withdrawn.
McCaskill said Vale provided the Crown with a “significant amount of information” that removed all reasonable prospects to prosecute Birnie.